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Mine Disasters in the United States


Philadelphia & Reading Coal & Iron Company
Locust Gap Colliery Fire

Locust Gap, Northumberland County, Pennsylvania
May 5, 1904
No. Killed – 5

See all Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Co. disasters


Rescuer Death

As part of a rescue crew to bring out 3 miners from the Locust Gap Colliery, John Debo ignored the protests of others and went far into the workings.  It is believed that he succumbed to smoke and gas.


(From the 1904 PA Anthracite Dept. of Mines Annual Report – Mine Inspector’s statement)
On the morning of May 5th, I was summoned to Locust Gap colliery the scene of a mine fire, and upon my arrival at the colliery, about 6.20 a.m., I found both slopes and fan-way on fire, the fan having been burned down.  Five men were entombed inside.  In company with Mr. W. J. Kichards, manager, I proceeded to the west end slope, which connects with the inside workings of the Locust Gap colliery.  When we arrived near the slope, we met Messrs. Tasker, Brennan, Superintendent, and McLaughlin, foreman, who had just ascended the slope.  We accompanied them back to the office and examined the colliery map.

I then started again in company with Mr. McLaughlin to the west end slope and descended 1,700 feet, then back east to the bottom of Locust Gap slope on the second lift.  I found a fire there of immense magnitude.  The third level of Locust Gap is not connected with the main or hoisting slope, the coal being hoisted from this lift on a tender slope to the 2nd lift and transferred to the main or hoisting slope.

After finding it impossible to cross east of the slope, we made an effort to go down to the 3d lift through the upcast airway west of the slope, but when we reached the top of the gangway, we found that the water had raised to that point.  Our intention was to go along the gangway east until we reached the other upcast airway on the east side of the slope and go up this airway to 2nd lift to where we supposed the men were.  When we found it impossible to reach the men through this channel, brattices were put up at once to prevent the fire from getting any air.  I then went up to the first level and to the bottom of the slope and found conditions the same as below as far as the fire was concerned.  They immediately made preparations to brattice here also.

The next move was to slush the slopes and fan way.  Also, holes were sunk from the surface and silted to prevent the fire from spreading east and west.  The work was done with great rapidity.

A futile effort was also made to get down to the second level through an old traveling way on the east side.  They got down about 100 feet below the first lift, when they found that the passage was blocked with immense pieces of top rock.  These were old workings that had been robbed years ago, and to blast these rocks, meant the losing of more lives.

The five men that were entombed lived in Locust Gap.  Their names were Michael Boylan, John J. Boylan, Michael Shannon, John Debo and William Melechefski, the two first named being brothers.

On May 8, I again went to Locust Gap in company with the Chief of the Department of Mines, where we met Messrs.  Fahey and Dougherty, president and organizer of the Ninth district of the United Mine Workers.  We proceeded to a room in the McClure Hotel and I pointed out on the colliery map to those present what had been done to rescue the imprisoned men.  Everyone present approved of the methods adopted.

On the 13th of May I again visited the mine, and in company with Charles Gallagher, inside foreman at Pott's Colliery, went down the old traveling way on the east side.  As we got near the first lift, I noticed that the air had been reversed, and fearing that smoke or damp might issue through the hole we decided to return.  There were men timbering this manway at the time, and I suggested to the officials that they stop and take the men away, which was done.

The fire originated in the pumpway, while a party of men were timbering it.  They were given lanterns to work with, so I am told, but instead of using them they used their naked lights, which resulted in setting fire to the timbers.

The company, regardless of the expense, did all in their power to recover the bodies of the men, before slushing the mines.


Five in Burning Mine at Shamokin
Tyrone Daily Herald, Pennsylvania
May 7, 1904

Shamokin, Pa., May 7. -- Five miners are entombed and believed to be dead as a result of a fierce fire which is raging in the Locust Gap colliery of the Philadelphia & Reading Coal & Iron Company.  They are: John Boglan; Michael Boglan; Michael Shannon; John Debo; William Massaskie.

The fire started Thursday night in the slope and Massaskie, Shannon and the Boglans were cut off from escape before they were warned.

Rescuing parties were at once set to work, and their efforts to bring out the men have been unsuccessful.  Debo, notwithstanding the protests of others, went far into the workings and has not been heard from since, and it is believed that he has succumbed to smoke and gas.

A party of rescuers tried to enter an old drift and a hole they drove through a private yard into the burning slope, but smoke and gas caused them to retreat.  The fire is burning fiercely.  Some of the officials think the men will be found smothered to death, while some of the miners are of the opinion that they are safe in old abandoned workings.



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